“Now that the side is trailing 0-2 in the Test series, with their biggest seam bowling option out of action, one keeps wondering if that was indeed a gamble that was worth taking”
How important is a bilateral ODI series?
How many of us remember the splash of champagne as the Indians won the bilateral series here in 2014? How many of us even remember the scoreline?
To jog our memories, let me recollect that the first ODI at Bristol was washed off, following which India won at Cardiff, Nottingham and Birmingham, after which they lost the final showdown at Leeds.
The result was 3-1.
The corresponding scoreline in the Test series was identical. Only it ended in favour of England. And that is etched in our memories.
It remains so. Test cricket, irrespective of the financial returns associated with it, remains the big prize, the contest one plays for.
Hence, again, if the Indians somehow manage to pull off a once-in-a-lifetime-and-half miracle and end up winning this ongoing Test series, no one will really care that they lost the ODI contests 2-1.
Which makes the thinking of the Indian management even more curious.
The Bhuvneshwar Kumar mystery
Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been an asset in the Indian tour of 2014. India had been up 1-0 after the first two Tests. The young seamer’s contributions were incredible. 58 and 63 in the two innings and 5 for 82 at Trent Bridge, followed by 36 and 52 and 6 for 82 in the first innings at Lord’s.
He finished the series with 247 runs at 27.44 and 19 wickets at 26.33.
Four years down the line, he remains a genuine threat with the moving ball in these conditions. He has also added a few yards of pace, bringing another dimension into his bowling. And his batting remains handy, which, given the current shambolic performances of the top order, would have been emphatically important to add a semblance of respectability to the efforts. He is one of the lower order batsmen who puts a high price tag on his wicket, and applies himself to the full.
In fact, it is not a stretch to say with some degree of confidence that had Bhuvneshwar Kumar been in the side at Edgbaston, India would have won with a bit to spare. And at Lord’s, England might have been hard-pressed to take that gargantuan a lead, especially when the fifth wicket had fallen at 131.
But, he is not available. He played once on the tour, with a back strain that had been plaguing him ever since IPL. It was when India, locked at 1-1 in the ODI series, decided to risk him in the decider at Headingley.
He tried valiantly with the bat, scoring 21 useful runs late in the order. With the ball, he was off-colour, taken for 49 in 7 overs. Understandable, given the long break he had had.
But that was it.
India lost the ODI and hence the series. And the medium pacer was no longer available. He was back in recovery, his back injury supposedly aggravated. He was not even named in the 18-member squad for the first three Tests.
Supposedly, before the ODI he had passed the yo-yo test … those curious sole criteria which makes one eligible to play these days.
The point remains what was the burning necessity of risking him in an ODI? Regardless of being the decider, it was no more than a tie in a largely inconsequential bilateral series no one will remember a few days from now. And if his injury was aggravated, and that seems to be the official version, it implies that he was definitely carrying it when he played at Headingley
In short, he was played although he was not fully fit. This puts the role of Patrick Farhart, the Indian team physio, under the scanner. Other members of the back office, such as Shankar Basu, the trainer, do not look too good either.
Already rested for the Test against Afghanistan so that he could recover in time for the England tour, all the precautions surrounding Bhuvneshwar seem to have been thrown to the chaotic wind.
Obviously the current think tank, including coach Ravi Shastri and skipper Virat Kohli, also share the responsibility for such a short-sighted ploy.
Really, if he was not fully fit, there was no reason for him to play in the match, decider or not.
Now that the side is trailing 0-2 in the Test series, with their biggest seam bowling option out of action, one keeps wondering if that was indeed a gamble that was worth taking.